Norfolk home to seven of UK’s top ten rarest wild animals

Slow Worm. 25% of Britons have seen these creatures in the wild.

Slow Worm. 25% of Britons have seen these creatures in the wild. - Credit: Archant

You don't have to go far to enjoy some of the amazing wildlife. Here in Norfolk we have some of the rarest species here, says Stacia Briggs.

Norfolk is a natural stronghold for some of the UK's rarest wild animals, according to new research.

A team of researchers analysed reported animal sightings and collated a list of the 20 most elusive indigenous species, including night jars, slow worms, adders, stoats and weasels, otters, cuckoos and kingfishers – all of which are relatively common in Norfolk.

In the top 10, seven of the creatures listed are regularly spotted in the county – the three that can't be found in Norfolk are pine martens and golden eagles, which are largely found in Scotland, and ravens, whose main home is in Wales.

More shockingly, the National Curiosities report revealed that around a quarter of people hadn't even seen common animals in the wild such as hedgehogs, foxes, frogs and deer.

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The Natural Curiosities Report was commissioned to mark the launch of the new series of Sir David Attenborough's Natural Curiosities on UKTV channel Watch, and was led by conservationist Dr Toni Bunnell.

David North is head of people and wildlife at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and said that Norfolk was one of the best places in the country to spot creatures that were, elsewhere, so elusive that the majority of the population thought they had become extinct.

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'From the top 10 list, we don't have pine martens or golden eagles, and I don't think there has been a recent recording of a raven in Norfolk, but the rest of the creatures on the list can be seen in Norfolk and indeed in some cases we are one of the best places to see them,' he said.

'Even ravens are beginning to head our way from Wales having started to recover after centuries of persecution and perhaps a reduction in the use of pesticides. They've reached the Midlands and we expect they will come to Norfolk one day, just like the buzzards did.'

When it comes to night jars – the species that the least number of people in Britain have spotted – Norfolk can feel a degree of smugness.

'We've not just got night jars, we are a national stronghold for night jars,' said Mr North, who said the nocturnal, camouflaged bird of which there are just 4,606 pairs in Britain, could be seen in north and west Norfolk and at the trust's Roydon Common. 'They are a bird you normally see flying at night and they make an incredible churring noise – it's quite the weirdest call of any British bird.

'They can make more than a couple of thousand notes a minute for up to 10 minutes without stopping and they also have a 'wing clapping' display. They are quite spectacular.'

Stoats and weasels appear in the top five most elusive animals, even though their numbers stand at 462,000 and 450,000 respectively. 'Both of them are pretty widespread wherever you live in Norfolk – you'll see them in roadside verges, rough areas of grassland and heathland,' said Mr North.

'We say 'weasily identified, stoatally different' because weasels are smaller than stoats – so small they can get into mice and vole burrows, while stoats will feed on prey up to the size of a rabbit. Where you find rabbits, you generally find stoats – Weeting Heath is a great place to spot them, because of the fantastic warrens.'

Cuckoos have declined in number in Norfolk, but are still widespread here. 'More people recognise them from their sound than by the way they look – they're often mistaken for sparrowhawks,' said Mr North, who suggested cuckoo spotting in wetlands such as the Norfolk Broads and parts of Breckland.

Slow worms, he added, were often fans of graveyards and could be seen basking in the sun on flat gravestones, in parts of the Brecks or at Roydon Common while Norfolk was renowned for its healthy adder population (try Holt Country Park, the Brecks and parts of the Norfolk coastline). 'Adders are definitely ones to view from a distance, although that's how they will feel about you, too,' he said.

Kingfishers can be seen in Norfolk along riverbanks and even in central Norwich.

'They're quite widespread, but often very difficult to spot because they're very elusive,' said Mr North. 'If you're in a group of people, one person will spot a flash of blue and before the others can turn round, it will be gone.'

And he added that otters were also thriving in the county – with waterways near Thetford being one of the best places in the UK to catch a glimpse of them – although spotting them remained a privilege afforded to only a lucky few.

'The message is that if you want to see these elusive animals, come to Norfolk, visit our nature reserves and you've got a great chance of seeing creatures you simply might not see elsewhere. It's something Norfolk can be very proud of.'

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